Quaternary tufa deposition in the Naukluft Mountains, Namibia

Stone, Abigail E. C.; Viles, Heather A.; Thomas, Louise and van Calsteren, Peter (2010). Quaternary tufa deposition in the Naukluft Mountains, Namibia. Journal of Quaternary Science, 25(8) pp. 1360–1372.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/jqs.1435


The large, extensive tufa deposits of the semi-arid Naukluft Mountains, Namibia are potentially important palaeoenvironmental indicators in an area with few proxy records. Tufas are reliable indicators of increased moisture availability, and have been shown to be amenable to 234U–230Th dating, although two challenges are detrital contamination and open-system behaviour. Densely cemented tufa facies are good candidates for dating, minimising these problems. We report attempts to date five densely-cemented units, which are only found rarely within the Naukluft deposits. We applied a detailed methodology using multiple subsample analysis, measurement of insoluble residues, application of ‘isochron’ mixing lines, and attempted open-systems modelling, alongside observations of micromorphology and cathodoluminescence in order to assess the validity of any obtained dates. Surprisingly, densely cemented tufas were found not always to be suitable for dating. Two units contained detrital contamination, which could not be corrected for using a single leachate correction or ‘isochron’ methods. Two units contained ‘excess 230Th’. This could result under a closed-system if initial (234U/238U) was sufficiently high. Alternatively this may be the result of open-system behaviour, and loss of uranium, or incorporation of initial unsupported 230Th, which render samples unsuitable for 234U–230Th dating. Micromorphological appearance and cathodoluminescence behaviour are used to explore these possibilities. This study exemplifies the need for careful sample selection, and highlights the importance of analysing multiple subsamples from any tufa sample. The detailed methodology applied proves to be a powerful tool for identifying the range of problems that can be encountered when selecting suitable candidate samples for successful dating. It also shows that semi-arid tufa sequences may contain very little material suitable for dating. A reliable age of c 80 ka was obtained for a banded unit within a large fluvial barrage, with less reliable dates suggesting tufa deposition during times since >350 ka through to the late Holocene.

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